London to Útila

So the date for my departure finally arrived after much planning and anticipation. I departed Heathrow on Monday 20th June and 36 hours later after 3 flights and a catamaran journey I found myself at my first destination of Útila, a small island in the Carribean. The journey was long but smooth and the excitement of looking ahead to a year of no work and seeing some amazing stuff made the time fly by.

The first stop on the journey was Miami and after arriving in the stifling tropical heat I immediately got the free shuttle to my hotel. Thanks to KPMG (well, actually, thanks to KPMG’s clients) I had managed to save up 150,000 Hilton Honours points during my time there, which equates to roughly 4 or 5 free nights depending on the city. So I plan to use these points for a few nights of luxury throughout the year. And to ease me in to the trip, I thought Miami would be a good place to start! So I stayed in a very nice (and Massive!) Hilton suite near the airport next to the Burger King HQ. It would have been nice to take greater advantage of being in Miami and the hotel but due to the jetlag and knowing I had to be up at 4am to get my next flight I opted for an early night. I did however manage the short walk down to Walgreens to get my favourite stateside treats: root beer and hot tomales. : )

High fructose corn syrup at its best:

So after an early start which was one of the easiest early starts I’ve ever had (afterall it was 9am UK time) I was back at the airport which I had left no more than 12 hours before.

My arrival at Miami had been a lot smoother than I had expected, and it had only taken an incredible 10 minutes to get through immigration. That luck was shortlived and I feared the worst when after I walked through the scanner for my departure from Miami I was escorted to a small room by two security guards who then proceeded to don rubber gloves. Oh dear I thought: I’d heard backpackers were sometimes targeted for invasive drug searches and thought that they’d obviously thought I was a perfect candidate. Fortunately it turned out that I had moved slightly when I was in the full body scanners they have and they just needed to give me a more rigorous pat down. Although it wasn’t pleasant it was a lot better news to hear than what I was expecting.

Miami from the sky:

So onto El Salvador and a quick transfer onto my 3rd and final flight to Roatán, one of the three Bay Islands which lie 20 or so miles off the north coast of Honduras, and the largish city of La Ceiba. The flight path we took gave us some spectacular views of my eventual destination and home for the next 7 weeks: the smallest of the Bay Islands, Útila (pronounced ootilla). But first I had to get from Roatán, so had booked myself on the only transfer between the two islands: Captain Vern’s catamaran. As this was the only transfer of the day I was expecting the boat to be packed with tourists and tradesmen, and was happy that I had booked my place. However it turned out to be a private charter for just me! The 4 hour journey across the Carribean was a lot rougher than I had expected and it wasn’t long before seasickness set in, which made the journey uncomfortable until I found standing up seemed to ease the nausea.

Utila from the sky:

Captain Vern’s catamaran:

On arrival to the island I had set myself the task of going to each one of the 14 or so dive schools and deciding where I wanted to base myself for the next seven weeks of my divemaster training. I managed to get to 4 before deciding that I would get a room for the night and have a further look the next day. So I was shown to my room in a place Captain Vern had recommended, which runs at $5 a night. It suited me fine as it was a private room and somewhere safe to keep all my electronic items I’ve brought, but it wasn’t anything like the Hilton : ). Well that recommendation was to prove pivotal, as after a night and several beers in the hotel (which doubles as a divecentre) with the divemasters/instructors and other divers and a chat with the owner I decided that I was gonna stay there to do my course. I can always get a room in an apartment I thought instead of staying in the fairly basic room. Any way the next day I got down to the numbers with the owner and she cut me a very good deal of $1,093 for my rescue diver, efr and divemaster (that’s very very cheap!) and 30 days free accommodation. The offer of the free accommodation meant it didn’t make sense to get an apartment which would have been cool, but I think everyone that knows me will know that I’m not gonna pass up free accommodation. Plus to have a private secure room with a fan on the site that I will be spending my next 7 weeks is nothing to be scoffed at and after a couple of nights I’m settling in.

So 2 days in and I’ve done my EFR course (Emergency First Response) which is a general first aid course (not diving specific) and it feels good to know that I can help out in emergency situations now. And I did my first diving today which was very enjoyable if not as spectacular as Sharm-El-Sheikh in Egypt. The highlight being a great big spotted eagle ray cruising by, which is just awesome to see in the wild.

Some Dutch girls are making Dutch pancakes round one of the instructor’s house tonight which I’ve been invited to so will sign off for now.

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